Batman: The Animated Series - Why You Never Sully the Joker's Image


Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's fifty-sixth installment, a look at animated heroes of the past. This week, we examine a lesson taught by both Batman: The Animated Series and its tie-in comic: Do not ever step on the Joker's brand. He won't be responding with a lawyer.

"Joker's Wild", from writer Paul Dini and director Boyd Kirkland, is the forty-second episode of the series. Premiering on November 19, 1992, and later rerun during prime time, the episode seemed unusually violent for the era. The premise has the Joker targeting a casino mogul for exploiting his image...and along the way, Batman is electrocuted, beaten with a two-by-four, and we're led to believe, eaten by a massive reproduction of Joker's head.

Earlier episodes often begin with some justification for how the villains have escaped Arkham. The silliest example of this is Joker literally turning a Christmas tree into a rocket in "Christmas with the Joker." This escape is far more plausible. (It consumes almost the entire first act!) As an indication of the more grounded tone of the series, this time he escapes by concocting a mystery compound out of the janitor's supplies and threatening the guards. As we later learn, he's able to do this thanks to a corrupt Arkham employee.

Businessman Cameron Kaiser has a man on the inside, ensuring Joker's escape. He's certain the madman will destroy his latest casino project, Joker's Wild, thanks to his unauthorized use of the clown's image.

As insurance scams go, it's somewhat clever...until the remember the Joker isn't going to treat you any better than the casino. Kaiser's public denial of any connection to the Joker is amusing, though. Many readers today likely aren't familiar with Harry Hamlin, but he was a big name TV star in the '80s. He gives Kaiser a believable sense of desperation and oiliness.

Another cute scene has Bruce Wayne present at the casino opening, appalled by what he sees. He investigates, discerns Kaiser's plan, and spends the rest of the episode saving the fraud's life. There are numerous props, some intense action scenes, and a memorable blackjack faceoff between Bruce Wayne and the Joker. And through it all, animation studio AKOM is there to bungle the delivery.

It's been reported that producer Bruce Timm was so disappointed with AKOM's work here, the production threatened to drop the studio. (Boyd Kirkland, a well-respected director, would later complain publicly that far too many of his episodes were sent to AKOM.) Realizing they were close to losing a client, AKOM placed far more effort in their "last chance" episode. Apparently, that one is "Mad as a Hatter," the Mad Hatter's debut. And hardly anyone faults the animation there, so it seems AKOM could pull out decent work when pressured into it.

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